Police interrogation room-based theatre pieces are always going to be tense and gripping affairs. Think SUS, Barrie Keeffe’s excellent play based on racist stop-and-search laws in 1980s Britain, or American Justice, seen recently at the Arts Theatre. Arthur Milner’s contribution, Facts, in its European debut, may not break the mould but it certainly stomps its mark all over it. It’s a play which is consistently fascinating and morbidly absorbing throughout its 80 minute running time.
American archaeologist Gordon Phillips is found murdered. Were it not for his connections with the White House this could have just been yet another unsolved crime in ‘the jungle’ that is the West Bank. Instead, police officers Yossi, a self-styled secular and liberal Israeli, and Khalid, a proud Palestinian from across the border, are issued to investigate. Phillip’s atheist academic writings, in which he states that King David never existed, thus dismantling a key pillar of Zionism, leads to Danny, a militant Zionist, facing suspicion. Danny is clearly guilty of something, but of what, Yossi, Khalid and the audience are uncertain. Whilst he may not have murdered the archaeologist, Danny represents the fundamentalist and blinkered mindset, based on hatred and suspicion, which says as much about the stumbling blocks in the way of long-lasting peace in the Middle East as it does simply explain one character’s rationale.
Paul Rattray is thoroughly engrossing as Danny, providing a measured performance that manages to be both controlled and frantic, a darting eye, a flared nostril or a curled lip are all excellent touches, shedding light on the raw emotions behind the character. Philip Arditti is strong as Khalid, a fiercely loyal Palestinian evidently wounded by the indignation he is subjected to at every check point.
Yet for me, it is the truly spellbinding performance from Michael Feast that makes the piece. Feast, reunited here with Rattray after their time together in Benedict Andrews’s production of Three Sisters at the Young Vic last year, dominates the space with his booming presence and unhinged attitude and nature. His portrayal of Yossi during the scene in which, by Danny’s own definition, he is accused of “not being Jewish”, in which all pretence of ‘Good Cop’ is lost and Yossi explodes with pent-up anger is one of the most powerful individual performances I have seen at the theatre for a long time.
Milner’s writing is equally impressive; Yossi asks Danny what the bigger crime is according to the Torah, “cheating on your wife or having sex with an Arab?”, although the latter is apparently “more bestiality than adultery”. The writing is poignant and bold. In one instance when Danny is not clear where his principal hatred should lie – with “Israel’s most dangerous enemy, the Israelis” (i.e. Yossi), or with Khalid, the ‘uncivilised’ Palestinian.
The Finborough’s intimate space, with an audience of just 43, is both appropriate and frustrating. Appropriate as the small numbers and proximity to the cast ensure that the sheer intensity of the production is sustained, and frustrating because Facts really ought to be seen by as many people as possible.
Facts is running at the Finborough Theatre until 23 March. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.